Oct. 28, 2020
By JANICE ARNOLD
MONTREAL— Families of residents of the long-term care institutions Maimonides Geriatric Centre and Jewish Eldercare Centre, which were hard-hit by COVID this spring and summer, are pleading with health officials to halt a plan to admit outside patients with the virus to recuperate in those facilities.
“My initial reaction was, ‘What are they thinking?’” Helen Adam, president of the users’ committee at Maimonides, told the CJR. At the outbreak’s worst, one-third of Maimonides’s 380 residents were infected and 39 would die, in addition to the staff members who tested positive. It took reinforcement by members of the Canadian Armed Forces and then the Red Cross to get the situation under control.
Eldercare had an even more difficult time from the outset of the pandemic in March, and lost more residents.
On Oct. 19, CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, the government health agency that administers Maimonides and Eldercare, informed families that there were no longer any COVID cases among residents and that the “hot zones” at both sites would, if necessary, accommodate certain people with the virus who live in the geographic territory served by the CIUSSS.
The email, signed by Barbra Gold, director of the CIUSSS’s Support Program for the Autonomy of Seniors, states that these beds would be for “COVID-positive patients who are medically stable (do not require hospitalization) but require a greater level of care than what is being offered at their current locations, such as private seniors’ residences, intermediate resources or those recovered in hospital who are not strong enough to go home.”
To date, no such transfers have been made and Gold noted that “every effort” is being made to keep such patients where they are. She added, “We are confident that this approach will not compromise the health and well-being of our residents and is in the best interest of the community we serve.”
Adam said families are flabbergasted that after waging such a lengthy battle to contain the virus – which included stopping visits for months and moving residents to different rooms and makeshift spaces to separate the infected from those who were not – the two institutions are now being opened to ill people from the community.
At Maimonides, the hot zone is located in part of the uppermost seventh floor. Adam said she is fearful that staff will inevitably move to other areas of the building despite the best intentions.
“I think Quebec has gone out of its mind. They try one thing one week and another the next. Now it looks like they are setting us up as an adjunct to the hospitals. People are so scared and confused,” said Adam.
Asked by the CJR to respond, the CIUSSS emailed a statement that those with COVID will be moved “only as a last resort” and with extra precautions.
“If and when any COVID-positive individuals arrive at the facility, they will not come into contact with uninfected residents. They will be put into designated hot zones that are separated by permanent walls from the other residents and the other units,” it said.
“They and the staff who care for them will also use designated elevators that will be unavailable to other residents and personnel. As well, they will receive care from dedicated members of the staff—in other words, the COVID-positive person or their health care provider should not have any contact with the other residents, caregivers or health care teams at Maimonides or Jewish Eldercare.”
West-Central Montreal adds that, “like every CIUSSS throughout the province, we are required to provide residents in our area with emergency spaces in a non-traditional site, such as a long-term care centre.”
This is not reassuring to Maimonides resident Beverly Spanier. The retired high school teacher is afraid of another COVID outbreak and has little confidence in the institution’s ability to deal with it.
“This is supposed to be our home, not a hospital,” she said, still traumatized by the upheaval that took place earlier this year. “We’ve already been through hell. I don’t want to live in a war zone again.”
In a letter to Premier Francois Legault, the users’ committee says a “highly vulnerable population” is being put at risk and suggests an alternative. “There are many virtually empty hotels, who would probably welcome the work. Why not use them?
“We appeal to you M. Legault to rethink this directive.”
The committee has also reached out to the Conseil pour la protection des malades, a group defending the rights of users of the health care system.
Adam’s mother, who lived for six years at Maimonides, died in May, but not of COVID. Adam thinks many residents’ passing, including her mother’s, was due to the loneliness and stress caused by the pandemic restrictions. She did not see her mother in person from mid-March until just before her death when she was allowed to visit on compassionate grounds.
She does not want that to happen again to any other residents or their relatives.
By the official count, more than 6,100 people in Quebec have died of COVID, the great majority of them residents of nursing homes or seniors’ facilities.